Research Area:
Sustainability transitions in cities and regions

TransFOODmation

Prospects for Future Food: A Paradigm Shift towards Sustainable, Resilient and Fair Food Systems

Photo: © Bubbers_BB / Fotolia
View of a strawberry garden in Thailand

Problem statement
A food system embraces an interconnected set of parameters related to food production, processing, distribution, preparation and consumption. Since the food and market crisis in 2007, various parameters that have a decisive influence on food systems have undergone some relevant changes. It can thus be anticipated that food systems face a fundamental transition in the near future. However, there are different paths that this transition might take. The Food Systems Summit, announced by the UN Secretary-General for 2021, offers a unique occasion to analyse the possible narratives around the multilateral governance system dealing with food systems and to evaluate transition dynamics.

Goals
Based on an analysis of different conceptual narratives on the future development of food systems, this research project seeks to derive pathways towards future food systems, outlining their objectives and transition dynamics. In addition, the research project aims at gaining a better scientific understanding of the transformative dynamics in a specific multilateral context, covering the formal and informal track of the multilateral decision-making process.

Research questions

  • Which conceptual narratives on future food systems are proposed and debated by various actors?
  • What are the main trade-offs between these different conceptual narratives?
  • What are the political, social-economic and ecological implications of these different conceptual narratives?
  • How do these implications translate into power differentials between the Member States and the other stakeholders in the multilateral governance framework of the FAO and CFS?
  • Which pathways towards future food systems and transition dynamics can be derived from these conceptual narratives?

Methodology
The research project conducts a single case study of the multilateral decision-making process of the FAO and CFS, leading up to the Food Systems Summit in 2021. This covers both the formal and informal track of this multilateral governance framework and captures the governmental actors at the international level. Empirical data will be collected through a combination of different methods: A document analysis of the documents related to the multilateral decision-making process; participatory observation of the workshops and multilateral meetings leading up to the Food Systems Summit in 2021; expert interviews with the governmental actors participating in the multilateral decision-making process; and, if possible, focus group discussions with governmental actors.

The case study is complemented by an analysis of the academic literature on food systems to map the frames, concepts and narratives endorsed by national and local governmental actors, private actors and civil society. Interviews with academic experts in food systems serve to verify and substantiate the findings from the literature analysis.

The empirical data gathered are analysed through methods of interpretive policy analysis, which seeks to reconstruct the meaning of the narratives. This methodological approach provides the basis for comparing and contrasting the frames, concepts and narratives invoked by different actors.